I was told my mother delivered me with some difficulty one night in Brooklyn Jewish Hospital in the same year the NBA was born. Eight years later my world was called Hammel’s Housing Projects and back then, ten years after the WW ll Allies landed at Normandy, it was my entire universe. In our overcrowded apartment except for six daily hours at school you lived and breathed just biding your escape-time to get outside and be with your friends. And that had to be preceded by bravely bounding down some light bulb stolen, scary, pitch black staircases out to the sunlight.
And that is where you grew up, playing in the streets and they were tough streets. They were tough on your feet, your knees and your ankles. They cut, scrapped and drew blood when you fell; they froze and slipped in the cold and my soaked, over-cooked canvas Converse covered feet, swam inside for the summer heat. I never knew I could sweat so much.
We played roller hockey with a flat tin COKE can, Stickball (street baseball) where the sidewalk lamp post was first base; dodging the heavy traffic was part of the game. Our only teachers and our coaches were us. On summer weekends there was organized, “Little League” baseball as our lone escape from the otherwise year-long pavement pounding. Green grass 3 inches high! AKA: Paradise.
“You Have to Make Your Bones”
Basketball comes along when you’re 12 years old. There are no mini-basket schools and fewer coaches. Your basketball teachers are your buddies. You played 3×3 on the hard-court or alone you practiced. You enter a new world of friends in The Projects. To be “In” in that world you had to earn it on the hard-court. You relied on yourself but friends Oscar, Raymus or “Stretch” always repeated, “You gotta make your bones!” and “You gotta have an ID”. I did that. They were good teachers.
Now it’s1961, life is simple and The Beatles are coming. One everlasting memory and highlight is the b/w televised John F. Kennedy Presidential acceptance speech challenging a growing nation. “Ask not what your country can do for you but ask what you can do for your country”. It rang real; it rang true and was mirrored by the now growing NBA and especially my New York Knicks.
The Individual at the Service of the Team
The 70’s and TV is more popular. The Knicks become NYC idols and national champions. Believe me when I say here that to these two eyes they were poetry in motion. Ball movement, cuts, blocks, group instincts; all of it. Near perfect basketball teamwork, no nonsense defense and sharing at the orders of H of F coach, Red Holtzman. Sweet, synchronized equilibrium between NBA stars, Walt Frazier- Willis Reed- Earl the Pearl Monroe and Co. all sacrificing self-spelled success. It was, “the individual at the service of the team”. Basketball teamwork is converted to poetry and just as when, for the first time, you see a total eclipse you never forget. A partial becomes second rate.
The Team at the Service of the Individual
A partial, if you will, seems to be what many clubs are slip-sliding into. Front office salary structure as a pyramid creates a team based on economic criteria. It produces a team at the service of the individual- the one that makes the most money! Unfortunately similar to what Donald Trump is doing in the USA: The country at the service of the individual.
But don’t get me wrong. I love the play of the superstars. Who doesn’t? MJ, LBJ, Chris Paul etc. But this economic criterion is unsound and askew. Club Salary structures that translate to an on-court pecking order reduces what is poetry to a derivative, a limerick.
Nothing is perfect
In the end, it’s neither a perfect world nor is basketball a perfect game. Be that as it may the joy of witnessing or participating in basketball teamwork is not something to dispose of. Promoting the professional stars and basketball is fine and dandy… making it less than the sum of its parts is not. Just as “evolutionists of the game” argue regarding basketballs moving blocks, they argue the absurd argument. Evolution now applies to ISO(late) rosters and role players created?? The word evolution is useful but irrelevant when it’s men that decide to make changes. It’s B.S.
So let’s be aware and be brave. Ask the question, both here in the USA and here on the international side. Is this what is wanted? A team discipline made individual and superficial? Do we want to continue to see more of our game that is less than the sum of its parts?
In addition, there is a myth; that a teams’ “Sixth Man” is the fan. NOT true. Teamwork is. Ask anyone associated with the San Antonio Spurs.
Fans are the “First Man”.
Going forward we can only hope that there is enough respect and yes, love and understanding for the game just for the sake of the game, that poetry does not yield to Limerick levity like;
There was a Young Lady whose chin
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.- Edward Lear
As for my basketball I go with;
When you have that feeling
That you’re right where you belong
And the laughter of another
Becomes your favorite song
When you have that feeling
Of deep happiness within
From the time that you share
With a lover who’s your friend
When you have that feeling
You’ve found the sweetest love
That you’ve ever known
Then finally you’re where you need to be
You’re right where you belong.
I love this game.